Is Polaroid Ready For Its Close-Up?

As Polaroid reaches out to agencies about its global ad account, industry experts say the 66-year-old brand has built up enough brand equity with consumers to stage a comeback. But they caution that while Polaroid may be a household name, the company, which emerged from bankruptcy a year ago, must move beyond instant photography into the digital age.

The client has asked “a select group of agencies for information on an invitation-only basis,” said Polaroid representative Skip Colcord [Adweek Online, July 3]. The solicitation is linked to “a periodic review of all our advertising,” he said, adding: “We’re looking at everything.” Colcord declined to elaborate.

Bernice Cramer, Polaroid vice president for worldwide marketing and product development since February, is leading the initiative. She did not return calls.

Polaroid has sent capabilities questionnaires to an undisclosed number of agencies, sources said, and they are due back within the next few weeks. The client intends to conclude the process, being handled in-house, by the end of summer, sources said.

Polaroid appears to be searching for broad image ideas with the goal of augmenting, or possibly replacing, its agency roster, led by Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett on creative and Starcom on media.

Those Chicago shops added the Polaroid business following a consolidation review in May 2000. The global spend was estimated at $150 million at the time, the last year for which a global figure is available. Polaroid spent only $15 million in the U.S. in 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Colcord would not disclose which agencies have been contacted. Major shops with potential conflicts in terms of camera or technology clients include Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy & Mather, The Martin Agency, McCann-Erickson, Grey and former Polaroid agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Unconflicted shops include Arnold, Deutsch, GSD&M, TBWA\Chiat\Day, Wieden + Kennedy, Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, The Kaplan Thaler Group, Crispin Porter + Bogusky and another former Polaroid shop, BBDO. Those agencies either said they had not been contacted by the client or did not return calls.

Also on Polaroid’s roster are independent Boston agency Connelly Partners/CGN, which works on business-to-business initiatives, and Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London, which has worked for the client overseas. Those agencies could not be reached.

A Burnett representative said in a written statement that the agency is confident its relationship with Polaroid will continue “without change.”

Polaroid, which emerged from bankruptcy in July 2002 as a privately held company with a new management team in place, “has instant [name] recognition, so it’s not like [agencies] would have nothing to work with,” said Kevin Lane Keller, professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. “It’s a gamble, because they’re under enormous financial pressure.”

An early sign that Polaroid is moving in the right direction, analysts said, is its commitment to look beyond the instant cameras of its past to new products for the digital age, such as imaging systems for businesses and high-speed digital-photo printing kiosks (code-named Opal) being tested in several U.S. markets.

“Consumers may not even be aware of them being in trouble,” said Michelle Slaughter, a director at high-tech consulting firm InfoTrends in Norwell, Mass.

“It’s not that they have a bad image,” added Tobe Berkovitz, professor of communications at Boston University. “It’s just that no one thinks of them.”

Burnett’s most recent work for the client was a May effort that included swing-music-driven TV spots for the relaunched One instant camera, formerly the One Step.

With Trevor Jensen